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Lovely - though rich and quiet, a powerful Life Choices type adventure
Unexpected pleasure. Jennifer Lawrence drew me in; then the depth and "truth" of the story got me to enjoy it all. I read some negative notices saying it was "boring." I can see why a nervous person might say that - this movie is about that deep place inside us where we make our life choices. That may not be a thrill like a car chase or a shoot-out, but it was immensely more engaging.
I don't care if this is a faithful biopic or not. It might be - but it doesn't matter. The script and narrative were about the heart - make that Heart. Life often sucks; sometimes disappointment could easily be life's middle name. This story was about a woman who slogged through the pile of doodoo life dealt her, found the family and love and joy (and all that good stuff) that is at the core of us all, made the tough, life affirming choices and persevered until strength and happiness (and grace) were her real, genuine experience.
Robert Di Niro's character was a bit of a bully - passive-aggressively, AND aggressively. I like cheerier stories, and would have chosen to eliminate that character, or at least his prominence in the story. Same with her mother, and Peg, the half sister. But to the character Joy's credit, she tolerated them all, without undue fuss and without rancor. My first impulse would not have been to do that - and I found Joy's forgiveness and grace inspiring.
Overall, excellent movie. I am surprised the poo-pooers had the gall to post their whiny little cries of "boring!" and "what's the POINT?" online, for the whole world to see how shallow and dull they are. Oh well, takes all kinds, I guess.
Lastly - I think it must be time for director David O. Russell's recent cinematic shtick to be over. That is, the Di Niro, Lawrence, Cooper trio thing is on the edge of becoming tiresome. All are so talented - but they need to move on to higher and brighter pastures, with different people. IMHO
American Ultra (2015)
Good trailer - awful movie; dim, depressing, lame
I sincerely think my dismal rating of this movie is more than just a mismatch in taste. The trailer looked good, actually. Kind of a whimsical "out there" dark comedy. Turns out the trailer was pretty much the whole movie - at least the good parts of the movie. I was up for it! I was let down, though.
There was nothing funny - as far as I could tell (again, I'm being sincere), no jokes were even attempted. Seriously - those who have called it funny or a laugh riot leave me rather perplexed. I can only respond, assuming non-studio employees actually said that, with "Really?" The look of the movie was dim - and the settings were shabby to the point of being totally depressing.
After the movie, on the drive home, I had the sense the creators of this film were probably shooting for a "Bourne Identity" thing. And that's OK! Lofty ambitions that turn out to be WAY out of reach are fine - laudable, in fact. We all need to dream, after all. You have to admire gumption. But there was nothing "Bourne-ish" about this save for a clumsy and thin attempt at some plot lines.
I certainly wish the cast and crew better luck with their future projects. This, however, was awful, as my one star in the IMDb rating bar says. Not a swing and a miss, so to speak, but rather not even in the ballpark.
Paper Towns (2015)
Mostly good, engaging. A small few overly juvenile patches - but overall good
I read John Green's book, Paper Towns, and liked it. It wasn't my favorite of his books - but it was a very good read (his The Fault in Our Stars is a magnificent, stellar book, a very good movie, and my fave). I was ready to enjoy Paper Towns the movie, and did.
No one wants a movie version of a book to be a rigid scene-by-scene depiction of a book text, like some sort of visual aid from high school. Yet I did notice the movie was juvenile in a few spots, and the book never was.
Green's writing makes his books' subject matter appealing to anyone of any age. Yes, kids and their parents do seem to be his focus, and they feature prominently in his work. But the books are by no means "kid books." I am also puzzled by the common publisher's description of his books as "young adult." Just saying - nothing kid-like about them; they are real-life, meaty, and wonderful human stories.
Was this flick really good or really lame? I couldn't tell! Something nagged at me, so I watched it again two days after it opened. Now it's crystal clear: The great parts of the movie are those featuring the Margo character, played by English girl Cara Delevinge, and Q, the main male character, played by LA boy Nat Wolff. A less important character, Lacey, played by LA girl Halston Sage, was also very good, possessing the grace and gravitas one enjoys in a first-rate movie.
Despite liking this movie, I must confess to being impatient at times (especially during the road trip), because the childish petulance, thick-headedness, and whiny aspects were a bit too strong. The clunky script or directing (?) in those patches got a bit tedious. As if not just written ABOUT kids, but rather written TO kids.
The movie was probably a 6 or 7, to be strict, but the good parts were exceptional, so I gave this an 8.
Parts were great! Other parts could use more polish
I liked part of it, and was disappointed with another aspect of it. I liked the dogs, the "name" actors, and the overall, one-paragraph story. I had trouble with the script, the execution of the story, and some of the minor character actors.
I was also nervous about seeing a corny, ultra-patriotic political war message. That was surprisingly absent. Handled with subtlety, it was in very good taste. I was also nervous about the prospect of an overly sentimental dog story, one that might even be maudlin. tear-jerker (Sad is OK, but intentionally "pushing buttons" over and over just to create melodrama is tiresome). Needn't have worried - it was handled with a deft touch - subtle, yet moving. Good job with that.
The problem I had was the script, and thus the movement of the plot. It felt like some pieces were missing, somehow. Not fluid, not smooth. It was clunky and a bit clumsy - like a hastily made afternoon TV movie.
The girl, Carmen, was actually the best all-round kid here. Good actor - I totally bought her emotions, her dog training skills, and her overall motivations. The curl-haired guy, Chuy, was so annoying as a character - I couldn't tell if I was disliking the kid or the character. I suspect it was the character (so maybe that was good acting? Dunno).
I am a university teacher, and in my line of work this story would be great, but again, the script itself came off as a rough draft. A few more rewrites and 6 months of polishing would have made a big difference.
All in all - not bad. Probably family friendly, from 8 years old and up.
The Maze Runner (2014)
Kids may find it exciting and new. Over-35's will find it worn out and tiresome
Didn't read the books. I did read The Hunger Games, and enjoyed books and movies. This one had its great moments, but overall fell a little flat for me - but I think that's an age issue. A generational problem. Not that I am too old to appreciate rebellion and questioning authority, but rather because I've seen all the "Maze" tropes a hundred times before.
Recycling old tropes isn't a bad thing, nor am I implying it's some kind of art crime! Rather, I am just noting that anyone over 35 may find it a bit old hat and even tired by now??? I'd have to add books to the list of "The Maze" forerunners - Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," Michael Creighton books, and others I can't recall now. And all the "Mad Max" movies - "Logan's Run," "Lathe of Heaven," and of course "Lord of the Flies." Even 1990's fare such as "Water World" and "The Postman" echo a bit here. And other movies I can't remember. Add the iconoclastic vibe, taking down The Man and The Establishment, and unethical experimentation and manipulation by The-Powers-That-Be, and you might already be wearied of "The Maze" before you even get to the cinema.
In some ways "The Maze" has a trick ending, and relies too much of corny plot twists - "Surprise!" wears thin. I could imagine that once someone knew the trick ending, the movie would be unwatchable. It would be way too silly, way too tedious and dull. Virtually unendurable to sit through. That's never a good sign for a movie.
Katniss - she still holds interest, together with the whole Panem bunch for me!!! So I am not "anti" anything. I just want a newer, fresher approach is all. If you're young - and this is your first exposure to these themes - go see "The Maze" and go nuts and enjoy yourself! If you're a grown-up - don't expect anything new or fresh, or startling. It just isn't there.
If I Stay (2014)
Surprisingly evocative of my own early love development years. Sweet but slooooow
This was certainly a "lovely" film. It is obvious that the writer/director cared about presenting something genuine and touching - rather than some plot driven smash-a-thon. I could relate to the themes. They were telegraphed so clearly, however, there were no real surprises. We could see each line and exchange and development coming from a mile away - and the movie took forever to get to each tiny step (it's 2 hours and 15 minutes).
It pains me a bit to say it, but the movie's glacial pace and repetitive nature slowed it down a bit too much. And how it would linger over each small movement in the two kids' relationship, and then go back over it and over it and over it - made it feel repetitive. I suspect women might find this more of a match to their style of fantasizing? If the movie wasn't so earnest, and "real" in some very authentic ways, I would have found it annoyingly tedious. Didn't quite happen, though. I was surprised to find myself flashing back to some very sweet moments from my own teen-aged love affairs. It was sweetly evocative in that way, which I appreciated. I can't remember seeing a movie depicting the development of love with "youths" turning into adults so authentically and with so much meaning for me. Usually romances are either rom-coms, or formula set-ups, or twinky vampire book treatments. Or set pieces from current hip culture. This was none of those. This was nice. Sloooow, but nice.
Although the very predictable (and extremely limited and overly simple) plot points failed to "move" me particularly - it was interesting but no big drama - I was generally liking all the characters. I was glad for the characters finding romance, and I enjoyed reliving a bit of my romantic development in a fresh way no other movie had managed to do. But getting all weeping with the deaths and near-deaths and reuniting and all - nope. It was just life, and no cause for any tear-jerking hullabaloo.
Into the Storm (2014)
Bad script, bad acting, good FX (!) - failed "Twister" rip-off
It is uncomfortable to say, because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but this is a really awful movie. First, the trailers were very misleading. This flick is a limp 4th or 5th generation duplicate of "Twister" (1996; and an exciting and excellent weather adventure, with future Oscar winners Helen Hunt and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, as well as Cary Elwes and Alan Ruck, for example, and Bill Paxton recently Sargent Farrell from "Edge of Tomorrow" - all showing up with excellent actor skills, loads of charisma and talent). "Into the Storm" was NOTHING even remotely close to a finished, professional movie, let alone "Twister." Second: The "acting" was so bad it would look bad even if it was on a YouTube skit. I won't go into line-by-line analysis, and instead will just say it is wooden, emotionless, and so unconvincing I had to remind myself they were actors in the same movie - ANY movie.
The only way the acting could have been more dead and flat is if the actors held their Xeroxed copies of their scripts and read the lines verbatim.
Saying such things about a movie that maybe many people worked very hard to create and produce is not a good feeling. I promise, I am not trying to be mean-spirited, but you need to know what you are in for BEFORE you hire a baby sitter, make evening plans, and plunk down $40 for parking, a couple of tickets, and popcorn and drinks.
The actors are probably genuinely great and wonderful humans in whatever careers they have chosen... but please, please, PLEASE make that not acting.
BTW- The special effects were very good - maybe spectacular. The model building and FX shots were actually top-notch. Too bad the script was so lame, it could not make all that good looking disaster seem interesting.
Begin Again (2013)
Keira Knightly shines, but otherwise it's a poor imitation of "Once"
This is a mixed bag - Keira Knightly, as always, brings a charisma and warmth that make almost any movie worth experiencing. Sadly, it is only her warmth and charms that kept this movie afloat through what was a lot of straining and over-efforting with pieces that did not quite succeed. The pieces were poorly done, and did not really fit together into a coherent and fluid narrative. The fails are three-fold:
1) The music. This might be just my taste, but I found it lame and flat. And rather than showing a mastery of music that takes us beneath the veneer of "pop" and commercial product we are continually sold, the writer displayed a shockingly superficial grasp of the art form. For example, when the Keira Knightly and Mark Ruffalo characters discuss the music that inspired their lives, instead of introducing us to a wonderful and delightful new paradigm of music we may not have been familiar with, all the script did was halfheartedly mention a few stiff and silly clichés.
2) Ruffalo's character's behavior was really just a clown show. A fine actor, he was given a series of set pieces as if from a TV movie - and was ACTING bits of the drunken has-been on the verge of rediscovering his family and his integrity and his career, rather than someone actually living that, or doing that. His over-wrought histrionics were, therefore, clownish - unconvincing. One was completely unmoved at those empty displays of "emote-by-the-numbers."
3) Hailee Steinfeld and Catherine Keener were both rather wasted. Hailee is a very young Oscar nominee with a bright future, but her character's story arc didn't go anywhere. Her character had no spark, nothing that really set her apart as anything specific or meaningful. Similarly the older but equally appealing Catherine Keener also didn't have much to do. Aside from expressing a few standard ex-wife and "mom" concerns (she played Hailee's mother), her character didn't do much in the story. Certainly in both cases both of the women were under-used. Both of those otherwise talented and brilliant female actors could just as easily have not been in this movie - and no one would have noticed their absence, their characters had such a teensy impact. And that is the fault of the writer/director, not the actors.
As the movie wound down to the final act I had an inkling that this was a limp attempt to rip-off the really great indie movie "Once." Except this did not have the spontaneity of "Once," nor the artistic musical sense of that movie. I was shocked to read, later that night, that this movie was written and directed by the same guy who did "Once." That is sad - he aimed for a repeat of his earlier success, but completely and utterly failed to capture any but the most superficial resemblance.
He would have been better to have steered clear of music and any other similarities to "Once," and made a movie about welding. Or something. It could only have more interesting, more authentic, and more satisfying than this clunker.
Overall it was really a "4," but the otherwise talented cast made it a "5" (even though they bombed here), and Keira Knightly's good vibes made it a "6" (even though her movies are usually 10s).
Swedish version is glorious and enchanting! Was SO worth the wait for the English subtitles
2 or 3 so years ago I watched the first 7 episodes of season one ("series" one for British readers). I absolutely loved them, and was hooked. So I bought the entire 13-episodes of that first season, and it seemed as if each episode I saw was better than the last one. I waited impatiently for 2 years for the Swedish folks to get season two subtitled, and snapped that up as well, the day that second set became available.
I am watching the 3rd episode of season two right now - and am torn between wanting to gobble them all up and watch them all in a row, immediately (!), and hoarding the treasure and stretching them out, watching them as slowly as I can manage, making them last, to extend the pleasure. The third season is in the mail to me as I write. Knowing I'll have 16 more episodes to see after the current episode I am viewing gives me the comfort one only gets from contemplating a secret stash of joy. My only wish is that they were high definition Blu Ray, and not just DVD - but the Swedish Wallander is so good I can overlook that.
One word about the BBC version. I admire Kenneth Branagh a LOT, but do NOT like the series he stars in. Don't intend that as any disrespect of Branagh at all; but it is important and needs pointing out. If you've seen the BBC version and found it dull and depressing - don't give up! Try the "real" version, the one from Sweden. You'll notice it stars Kriister Henriksson - an unusual name for English speakers that will easily stand out for you.
The BBC take is completely different from the Krister Henriksson Swedish version. The BBC shows feel as if they missed the point - or at least got such a radically different point from the Wallander stories that it well could be from a different literature.
For me the great joy of Wallander is not the plots or the "exciting" police action, although they are interesting enough. Rather it's the tone. The shows have a "meditative" quality - at times even existential. They are very evocative. Certainly seeing these intimate views of Sweden and the people delight me, and engage me in a way few TV series can. I love every minute of them!
The Monuments Men (2014)
"Monuments Men" allowed me to enjoy a riveting and entertaining story about the best of humanity.
I loved it. Anything with Matt Damon or George Clooney is an automatic "Go see!" for me. Add John Goodman and Cate Blanchet and it only gets better. I heard one or two unflattering critics' comments about the movie a week or so ago, and was a little nervous that maybe the Laws of the Cosmos had been reversed in some fashion and the movie would not be good, despite its can't-lose topic and Oscar-great cast. I needn't have worried- it was marvelous.
I don't want this to be about what's wrong with those critics, but perhaps you'll find a small bit of that helpful to decide that you should treat yourself to this wonderful project? I suspect that if anyone didn't find themselves entranced and entertained it might have been because they were expecting something else. "Saving Captain America" or something.
The film deals with choices we make as a people. What do we value? What might be worth fighting and dying for? Personal power, glory, and money? (read: the Nazis' and Stalinists' cause). Or human striving for charm and grace and love and compassion and harmony and "art," as imperfectly as we may have carried that out? (read: the Allies' cause, in principle, anyway).
This IS a thrilling movie- but the thrills are very real, thus not sexy. I'm a scholar by trade (social psychology) and have studied this era and human relations extensively. As near as I can determine, this is how the war went for most people. And this project in real life, I hear, was rather quiet, and not thought to be glamorous- despite its "monumental" importance and its consequences for humanity (pardon the pun).
There is real danger in the movie. And suspense- made more gripping by the vast scale of the stakes... but of course made a bit more bearable by our knowledge that we won the war, and saved a vast chunk of our cultural heritage with the mission depicted in this movie.
For myself, I felt a surge of pride toward the end when the movie showed filmed newsreel items, re-enacted from the day. Yes, it showed the Army generals gloating over the cache of more than one hundred tons (!!! - worth more than $4 BILLION at today's price) of stolen gold recovered from the salt mine where the Nazis had hidden it. Hey- I'd gloat too! But it also showed the overall integrity of the Allies illustrated by their care and concern to return the art - worth jillions of dollars - to the countries, families, cities, museums, that were the rightful owners.
That just reminded me that while the flag-waving and money-making and glory-seeking may be the norm in this world, there are also millions of decent, honest, caring, compassionate, and spectacularly honorable humans among us. It feels good to know they were there then; it heartens me to suddenly realize that they are still out there today.
"Monuments Men" allowed me to enjoy a riveting and entertaining story about the best of humanity.